Monday, July 15, 2024

Week #29 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #29 –   The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tom_Sawyer

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7193/7193-h/7193-h.htm

First published: June 1876

Here's what the story is about: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is about a an orphan boy growing up along the Mississippi River. It is set in the 1840s in a town based on Hannibal, Missouri. Tom Sawyer has several adventures, often with his friend Huckleberry Finn. It’s 1884 sequel is Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was one of the first novels to be written on a typewriter.

First line/paragraph:

“Tom!”
No answer.
“TOM!”
No answer.
“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!”
No answer.
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for “style,” not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
“Well, I lay if I get hold of you I’ll—”

The story starts with an old lady calling out for Tom, who we assume is the title character Tom Sawyer. She wears “spectacles” mostly for show, not because she needs them to see. We learn a few paragraphs later that she is Tom's Aunt Polly, and she had a mind to discipline him, but once he escaped her, she laughed at his antics. The story starts in third person or omniscient, altho a bit later we see that it's omniscient. Unlike other stories in the late 1800s, this one really and truly does start in media res. It starts with dialogue [well, actually monologue]  which is risky because we don't know anything about who is speaking, but here it appears to work. I'm intrigued enough to keep reading.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!


Thursday, July 11, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How long should my chapters be?

 Dear O'Abby,

I tend to write my books straight through without any chapter breaks, and now I'm at the end of the writing process, I'm curious as to whether there is an optimum length for chapters?  I feel like there are some pretty natural breaks in my story where I could put chapter breaks, but they are not always a consistent length apart.  

Does that matter?  Is there an industry standard?  A genre standard?  I'm really not sure...

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.

Sincerely,

Lengthy

Dear Lengthy,

Like most writing question, the answer to this is "it depends".  There are a lot of very popular books out there with very short chapters, but they are usually thrillers or stories with a lot of suspense.  Having short, snappy chapters in a book like that keeps things moving at a rapid pace. On the other hand, if you're writing something deeper and more rooted in character and place, you probably want longer chapters for your readers to fully immerse themselves in.

And if you're writing something that's both of these things, you may want to switch from long to short and back again depending on how you want the reader to feel.

If you're writing in dual POV, you'll probably want to have a chapter break where the POV changes because changing POV midway through a chapter can be dis-orientating for the reader.  But that's not a hard and fast rule.  I've read multi-POV books where you get a range of voices in each chapter, usually separated by **** to indicate change, but not always.  Sometimes a writer is so good at differentiating the voices, they don't need a signal to indicate the switch in POV.  Sometimes...  It's not something I've seen often.

My personal approach to chapter length is to always find a spot to finish a chapter where something is happening or just about to happen.  You don't want the reader to feel that they have permission to put the book down at any point.  Your job as a writer is to keep progressing the story and to make it un-put-downable.  So I always try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger of sorts so the reader might say "just one more chapter. Then I'll go to sleep..."  But over and over until they've stayed up until 3am to finish reading.

There are no real rules and I very much doubt that any publisher is out there counting how many words there are in each of your chapters.  They're more interested in whether the story is compelling enough to keep reading all the way through and that the pace of the book holds up.  

Hope that's helpful!


X O'Abby

Monday, July 8, 2024

Week #28 – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #28 –  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moby-Dick

https://gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm

First published: October 18,1851

Here's what the story is about: Moby-Dick, or The Whale, is the narrative of sailor Ishmael, who tells the story of the maniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for vengeance against Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg on the ship's previous voyage. It was a commercial failure in its time, but gained a reputation as the Great American Novel in the 20th century. Its opening sentence, "Call me Ishmael", is among world literature's most famous.

First line/paragraph:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

The story starts with the main character telling readers to “call me Ishmael”, which is one of the most famous first lines in all of literature. We are not sure if that's his real name or just what he wants us to call him. He speaks to the reader in first person POV and introduces himself with a rather eloquent statement that, several years ago, he had no money and no interests except the sea. I am a bit intrigued by his voice and would give him at least a few more paragraphs to see if the story would engage me.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, July 4, 2024

O'Abby's July Writing Prompt

 Hello!

It's a new month so I have a new writing challenge for you.

I recently read a short story written from a second person point of view (where the narrator describes the reader's actions, thoughts, and background using "you") and it made me feel a little uncomfortable as a reader.  It's pretty unusual to be put into the story in that way!

So this month's challenge is to write a short story or flash fiction piece in the second person. 

Post in the comments or email it to operationawesome6@gmail.com.

I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with.  Happy writing!

X O'Abby

Monday, July 1, 2024

Week #27 – Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #27 –  Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Livingston_Seagull

First published: August 31, 1970

Here's what the story is about: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, illustrated with black-and-white photographs, is an allegorical fable in novella form, about a seagull who learns about flying, freedom, and self-realization. By the end of 1972 it had sold over a million copies, reaching the number one spot on bestseller lists mostly through word of mouth recommendations. In 2014 the book was reissued as Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition, which added a 17-page fourth part to the story.

First line/paragraph:

It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.

A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water, and the word for Breakfast Flock flashed through the air, till a crowd of a thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food. It was another busy day beginning.

The story starts with setting [ocean/beach] and time of day [morning]. It appears to be omniscient POV and past tense. We have a beginning of plot, a fishing boat and a thousand seagulls fighting for food. We are not introduced to Jonathan, the main character, until the next paragraph, where we see him practicing his flying skills. This story is only 144 pages long, and although it starts “in media res”, it doesn't hook me until the third paragraph. Is that too late for the modern reader?

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, June 27, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What happens if my agent dies?

 Dear O'Abby,

Please don't think I'm being morbid, but after an agent I've followed for most of my writing life died recently - she wasn't my agent - I have been wondering what happens to clients if their agent dies.  I assume there is some legal process, given how intimately involved an agent is with an author's finances?

Can you let me know?

Best wishes,

Not-that-morbid.

Dear not-that-morbid,

That is a good question!

The first thing you need to do if your agent dies is review any contracts you have relating to your partnership and any books your agent has sold.  In some cases the contract will state that obligations are with the agent as an individual, but in many others, the contract will be with the agency.

If the contract terms are with the agency, it is very possible that you and your work may be passed on to another agent within the same company.  If the contracts are with an individual agent, then their share of any royalties etc belong to their estate.

This is one of those situations you really need an agent to help you sort out where obligations and financial matters lie. Or at the very least, a lawyer familiar with publishing. If you are with a larger agency, it may be that the agent you get passed on to is not the best fit for your work in the longterm, but it is easier to negotiate an exit from working with them once all the legal and contractual matters have already been handled than to try and unravel them all alone.  

It may be that the old agency will continue to receive royalties and statements for any books sold by your former agent, and that you will continue to have a relationship with them into the future, even after you sign with a new agent or agency.

If your agent is a sole-trader, you may need to work with a lawyer to negotiate payment directly from the publisher (less the agent's fee that will belong to the deceased agent's estate).

If you haven't sold anything yet, or have a new project currently on submission, the most important thing to get is your now-deceased agent's submission list so when you secure new representation they have a record of editors and imprints that have already been approached.  

These steps are very similar if your agent doesn't die, but leaves agenting for a different career.

Hope that helps!


X O'Abby


Monday, June 24, 2024

Week #26 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #26 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm

First published: January 1, 1818

Here's what the story is about: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is an 1818 novel written by English author Mary Shelley when she was just 18 years old. Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, creates a living creature by piecing together body parts of cadavers and then giving it life in an unorthodox scientific experiment. He is then horrified by what he made and does not give it a name. The monster initially seeks affection and acceptance, but inspires loathing and fear in everyone who meets it.

First line/paragraph:
Letter 1
To Mrs. Saville, England.
St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—.
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.


The story starts with four letters before beginning with Chapter 1. So apparently the letters are similar to prologues. We have first person POV and a letter dated December 11 so the beginning of winter. The character is engaged in “the commencement of an enterprise” which the letter's recipient regarded “with such evil forebodings”. The letter writer assures the recipient that no disaster has occurred and s/he [we don't know yet] has confidence in ultimate success. Other than knowing the plot involves a probably-risky activity at the beginning of winter in the 18th century, we don't know much about the plot or even the main character yet.

This story is more than 200 years old and although it starts somewhat “in media res”, it's not hooking me yet.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, June 20, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I query a self-pubbed book?

 Dear O'Abby,

I have a book that I self-pubbed several years ago.  It never sold well and when I re-read it recently, I was kind of mortified by how badly written it was and unpublished it.  I have since re-written the entire thing, and feel like it's a much stronger novel now.

I didn't much enjoy the whole self-publishing journey, so this time around, I'd like to try and get an agent and traditionally publish.  Is it okay to query a novel that was previously self-pubbed? As I said, I have substantially re-written it and it now has a different title than the self-pubbed version.

Best wishes,

Unpubbed

Dear Unpubbed,

Yes, you can query this new version of your book.  But you should disclose in your query that it has been published before.  You don't want some eagle-eyed reader in the future calling you out for plagiarising something they have already read and your agent needs to know that there is another version of this story floating around out there, even if you only sold a handful of copies.

The best way to do this is to be completely honest upfront and say something in your query letter like "an earlier version of this novel was self-published as [title] in [year] and unpublished in [year] before being entirely rewritten."

That gives the agent all the info they need without telling them too much.  If they are interested in the book, they will probably do more research or ask you for more information, particularly around sales numbers.

Just be aware that even re-written,  it's often very difficult to get agent interest with a previously self-pubbed title unless you've sold a significant number of copies.  I would generally suggest that you query a new book, then bring up your previously published work once you've got the agent's interest already.

Hope that's helpful!

X O'Abby



Monday, June 17, 2024

Week #25 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #25 – Dracula by Bram Stoker

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345-h/345-h.htm

First published: May 26, 1897

Here's what the story is about: Dracula is an epistolary novel, told through letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles. Solicitor Jonathan Harker takes a business trip and stays at the castle of a Transylvanian nobleman, Count Dracula, who is a vampire.

First line/paragraph:
JONATHAN HARKER’S JOURNAL
(Kept in shorthand.)
3 May. Bistritz.—Left Munich at 8:35 P. M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late. Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible. The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.

Here we have first person POV, a journal entry on May 3 by a man named Jonathan Harker. He is traveling by train from Munich to Vienna and doesn't want to miss his next train which is apparently going to Turkey. We read a little of his opinions of the cities on his journey. Other than a train trip in springtime in Europe, we don't know much about the plot yet.

This story is more than 100 years old and although it starts somewhat “in media res”, it's not hooking me yet.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!





Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I use someone else's characters in my book?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm writing a book in which my MCs end up in a world in which characters from classic literature appear from time to time - think Long John Silver, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Owl and the Pussycat etc.  - and I was wondering if that's going to cause me any copyright issues.  I feel like the texts I've drawn from are all old enough that they're probably public domain, but wanted to check if there was any reason not to include these characters.  Do you know?

Yours truly,

Peopled

Dear Peopled,

That is a good question!

But no, you're fine to use these characters as long as you don't use any of the language the original author used to tell the story.  That would be plagiarism!  But you can write whatever you want about these existing characters as long as you do so in your own words.  And from the sounds of it, you're placing them in a very different world to the ones they existed in originally, so there should be no problem.

That said, if I were you, I'd stick to characters from works published prior to 1923 if possible. Those books are now all in the public domain whereas a character from a book written more recently - Harry Potter for example -  might cause you a few more headaches. 

If you really need to use a character from something recent, the best way to go about it would be to get the author's permission, to well and truly cover yourself.  If it's possible...

Hopefully that helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, June 10, 2024

Week #24 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #24 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Twist

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/730/730-h/730-h.htm

First published: monthly installments from February 1837 to April 1839 

Here's what the story is about: Oliver was raised in a workhouse and escapes to London, where he meets a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. The story is a social commentary on child labor, domestic violence, the recruitment of children as criminals, and street children.

First line/paragraph:
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

Here we have first person POV, apparently of a story teller, not the main character. The story appears to be about a child born in a workhouse who is referred to as “the item of mortality” which dehumanizes him. The title of the chapter is “TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH” so we know the name of the main character, Oliver Twist, which of course we already knew because it's the name of the book also.

No setting or plot yet, but the hint of the story is that it's about a boy who is probably poor because he was born in a workhouse, and he is considered a lesser human by the story teller. Just like last week, I must be a more modern reader, because except for a slight curiosity about the life of a boy born in poverty, this opening doesn't hook me.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!





Thursday, June 6, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How do I get paid for e-books in libraries

 Dear O'Abby,

My local library has recently started lending copies of my e-book (which is cool, I think), but I was wondering about how I get paid for that. Does the library just buy the file and then lend it to people forever?  Or do I get a small amount each time someone borrows the book?

Kind regards,

Librarian

Dear Librarian,

Ebooks have been really popular with libraries, especially since the pandemic.  They are typically cheaper that physical books and obviously don't take up shelf-space, get lost or stolen or get damaged when readers drop them in the bath (something I am all too guilty of).

Generally, a library buys an ebook for their collection and the author gets the royalty for that book. It can be lent to someone for a certain  period, then it will disappear out of their device and another reader can borrow it.  I believe ebooks from larger publishers can be licensed for a certain period that is then renewed after an agreed time - usually one or two years. If a book is likely to be popular, a library might buy multiple licenses/copies so more people can read it at the same time.

As a writer, it's often difficult to ascertain from royalty statements what is a library sale and what isn't.  If you're with a big publisher, it's possible that the price a library pays for an ebook is substantially higher than what a member of the public might pay.  And, as mentioned before, the right to lend it may need to be re-licensed at a later date.  

If you're self-published or with a small press, it's likely the only royalty you'll see from library sales is the initial sale - much the same as if the library buys a physical copy of your book to shelve.

Hope that's helpful!

X O'Abby




Monday, June 3, 2024

Week #23 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #23 –   The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby

First published: April 10, 1925

Here's what the story is about: Set in the Jazz Age [1920s] on Long Island near New York City, the novel describes narrator Nick Carraway's interactions with millionaire Jay Gatsby, and Gatsby's obsession with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.

First line/paragraph:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Here we have first person POV. Not sure about the main character but s/he appears to be an adult. No setting or plot yet, but the hint of the story is something about a person who does, or does not, have advantages in life. I must be a more modern reader, because this opening doesn't hook me.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 30, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What questions should I ask on The Call?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm kind of reeling!  After over a year of querying my novel and numerous requests for fulls, I have three agents wanting to have a call with me.  I'm excited, but also terrified.  All three are agents I'd be interested in working with, I think, so I'm wondering if you have any ideas on questions I should ask to make sure I pick the one that's best for me and my work.

Any ideas would be gratefully accepted.

Thanks so much!

Called

Dear Called,

Firstly, congratulations!  Getting to "The Call" is such and exciting moment.  And yes, terrifying. 

In terms of questions to ask, a lot of it depends on what you are personally most concerned about and what is most important to you in an agent.  So here are a few broad categories of questions you may want to ask, depending on what you are wanting to find out.

1. Stuff about your book - why they like it, how submission-ready they think it is, how many rounds of revision they think it needs.

2. Questions about their editorial process - editorial strengths, the style of their edits, how they like to do edits, who decides when to stop editing and send out.

3. The submission process- do they have an idea who they want to submit to, how many editors they will approach, whether you get any input into which imprints/editors they sub to, how many rounds of submissions they will do, if they will share their submission list.

4. Communication - ask about their preferred method of communication, how often they will be in touch, how long it will take for them to respond to questions, if there are any periods where they won't be communicating.

5. What happens after a book deal - how involved does the agent want to be, what happens if there is a dispute between the editor and the writer, does the agent/agency help with marketing & publicity.

6. Subsequent books - when do they want to see new projects, do they want to see projects even if they are not in a genre they usually rep, can you self-publish some books, if you have other completed manuscripts, are they especially interested in one over another?

7. Sub-rights - who handles them, how much say you get in these sales, commission percentage for sub-rights.

8. Any other questions you might have - maybe the number of clients they have, ask if you can see their agency agreement, where they stand on AI in writing, what their future plans are etc.

There are obviously a lot of other things you could ask. A good list of potential questions can be found here.

Hope this helps!

X O'Abby

Monday, May 27, 2024

Week #22 – Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #22 –  Charlotte’s Web by EB White

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte%27s_Web

First published: October 15, 1952

Here's what the story is about: The story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. Wilbur is being fattened to be slaughtered by the farmer. Charlotte writes messages in her web praising Wilbur – Some Pig, Terrific, Radiant, and Humble – to persuade the farmer to let him live.

First line/paragraph:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. 

"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."

This is another famous first line in literature. We have third person POV, the setting appears to be the kitchen of a farmhouse, and the main character appears to be a young girl who still lives at home and helps with chores [setting the table for breakfast]. We also have the first hint of conflict – Fern's father is going out to the hoghouse with an ax because some pigs were born during the night. Why would he need an ax unless he planned to kill one? And how would a young girl feel about that?

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Has the YA market disappeared?

 Dear O'Abby,

I don't know if I'm right about this, but it seems like it's become more difficult to get interest for YA books from both agents and publishers.  I've been writing YA for a long time, and about 15 years ago I found that I had a much better request rate from queries than I'm getting for my latest book. Has the YA market slowed down?  Or are agents and publishers just looking for different things now?

If you know anything I should be taking into account, I'd love to hear it.  I won't bore you with the whole story, but basically I'm hunting for an agent for the first time in a few years,, and it seems like I'm querying in a whole new landscape.

Sincerely,

Stranger in a strange land

Dear Stranger,

You're right.  The YA landscape has changed in the last 15-20 years, so if you're just jumping back in, you are seeing a difference.

You see, 15 years ago, YA was kind of a new thing.  Not entirely, of course, but as a category, it was still pretty fresh.  When I was growing up, there was  YA section at the library, but it was tiny - a few books by S E Hinton, Robert Cormier, Paul Zindel and Gordon Korman.  I basically moved from the kids' section of the library to Stephen King and Virginia Andrews because YA as we know it today didn't really exist. 

Today the YA section is my local library is a full section with multiple shelves plus a couple of big displays for the librarians' choices and a theme that changes monthly.

And that's why you're seeing a change to acquisitions.  There is a whole lot of amazing YA literature that already exists, a whole back catalogue of those books that were acquired and published over the last 20 years.  15 years ago when you were querying, agents and publishers were hungry for YA because it was proving popular with readers and there wasn't enough out there to satisfy demand.  Writers obviously take longer to write books than it takes for readers to devour them, so there was kind of a frenzy of acquisition at this time.

Now that there is so much YA available, agents and publishers are more focused on filling gaps in the market, especially around broadening representation.  So the kinds of YA book that were getting snapped up in 2010 are not receiving the same level of interest now. 

Hopefully that answers your question.  It's tough out there, I know, but don't give up.  

X O'Abby






Monday, May 20, 2024

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week #21 – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice

First published: January 28, 1813

Here's what the story is about: Pride and Prejudice, original title First Impressions, was initially published anonymously because Jane Austen disliked attention. The book follows the relationship between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Darcy must overcome his pride and Elizabeth must overcome her prejudice before they can surrender to their love for each other and marry.

First line/paragraph:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This is one of the most famous first lines in all of literature. It appears to be omniscient POV, and a romance. We are introduced to a wealthy unmarried man who is apparently sought after as a husband by many of the families in his neighborhood. No plot yet, but good voice and a hint that several young ladies are pursuing him.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 16, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Is my book YA or Adult?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've written the first book in what I'm planning on being a series.  In this first book, my main characters are 15-18 years old, but as the series moves on, they will obviously age and as I've outlined it, they will be in their mid-twenties by the end of the series. Hardly YA anymore, but I'm pretty sure you can't change the category midway through a series.

So how do I categorise the first book?  Is it adult or YA?

Any advice you have will be gratefully accepted.

Kind regards,

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Whether your book is YA or adult is about more than the ages of your protagonists.  There are a lot of adult books that are told through the eyes of teens or children.  YA is more about voice and the themes of the work.  

YA tends to be about self-discovery and the separation between children and their parents.  About firsts - first love, first sex, first break up.  About discovering who you are in the world as a n individual with your own thoughts and beliefs.

If your book deals with these things, then it is probably YA. If it doesn't, then maybe you've written an adult book with teen protagonists.  

Neither is a bad thing.  

If it's YA, you will just need to ensure that your characters and their journeys continue along similar paths in the future books as they do in the first one, that their growth into adults is natural and organic.  If you do it well, the teens who started with your first book will age with the characters and see their own growth reflected in them.

Hopefully that helps.

X O'Abby


Monday, May 13, 2024

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 20 – Animal Farm by George Orwell

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm

First published: August 17, 1945

Here's what the story is about: A political satire and allegory of communism, a group of farm animals rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals are equal, free, and happy. The rebellion is betrayed, and under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon the farm ends up worse than it was before.

First line/paragraph:
Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.


This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. We are introduced to a farmer, married, a bit of a drunkard and actually drunk at this time. He may or may not be the main character, because the next paragraph introduces us to animals who are gathering to hear a story from Old Major, a 12yo pig. The setting is a farm, in the evening. The plot is underway with the farmer drunkenly locking up for the night. This is somewhat amusing to me because we are advised not to start with someone waking up, and here is a story where we are starting with someone going to bed.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this tory, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, May 9, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Can I query publishers and agents at the same time?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've been querying agents for a few months with very little in the way of response, so I was thinking about starting to query publishers that don't require an agent too.  Is this okay to do?  I have found a bunch of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts and it feels like I'll save time if I query them at the same time as I keep querying agents.

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.

Regards,

Unagented

Dear Unagented,

Generally speaking it is not a good idea to query both publishers and agents at the same time.  But if you do, make sure you keep really good records of who you've queried and any responses you get so if you do end up signing with an agent, they don't waste their time submitting your book to a publisher who has already rejected it.

Most, but not all,  publishers who accept unagented manuscripts are small presses, so think hard about what you actually want out of your writing career before you start going down this path.  And do your research before blindly submitting to a publisher that offers ebook only publishing when your dream is to see your book on library and bookstore shelves.

And whatever you do, don't go into submitting to publishers because you think it's a shortcut to getting agent interest if you get a bite.  It rarely works that way as agents prefer to submit books to editors they know and who have a track record with a specific type of book.  Also, agents only get paid when you do, so there isn't a lot in it for them if you've already started contract negotiations.

Which brings me to another point -  contracts.  Publishing contract can be tricky and unless you have the expertise, you could end up signing something that isn't in your best interests.  Better to leave that to an agent who has experience both in reading and negotiating publishing contracts.

So while you can submit to both at the same time, I would strongly advise against it.  I know publishing is slow and that waiting to hear back on queries can be agonising, so my best advice is to get on with writing your next book while you're playing the waiting game.  

Best of luck!

X O'Abby

Monday, May 6, 2024

Week 19 – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 19 –   A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_Called_Ove_(novel)

First published: August 27, 2012

Here's what the story is about: This is Fredrik Backman’s first novel. Set in Sweden, Ove is a cranky old man who recently lost his wife and believes he has nothing to live for except perhaps enforcing the neighborhood rules. He has strong principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. One November morning, a young couple with two daughters move in next door and accidentally run over Ove's mailbox, which is the beginning of change for the entire neighborhood.

First line/paragraph:  

Ove is fifty-nine.

He drives a Saab. He's the kind of man who points at people he doesn't like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman's flashlight. He stands at the counter of a shop where owners of Japanese cars come to purchase white cables. Ove eyes the sales assistant for a long time before shaking a mediumsized white box at him.


This story starts in omniscient POV, present tense. We are introduced to the main character, who is 59 years old and male. He's also judgmental and apparently not very nice, a curmudgeon. We are in the middle of a scene where Ove appears to be in an auto parts or electronics shop and buying something that comes in a box.

It's not generally recommended to start with the stats for the main character, especially the first line. But as mentioned in previous weeks, both Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton did this and those books were well-received. Plus this description is only 1-2 sentences long. The plot then begins. I may have started with sentences 4-5, maybe rewritten to be a single sentence, then back to sentences 1-3, so the story starts in a scene.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!



Thursday, May 2, 2024

O'Abby's writing prompt

As promised last month, I thought we'd kick May off with another writing prompt.

I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

I've been reading an older book that is told entirely through letters written by a soldier during WWI and his fiancĂ© and family back home. The perils of war meant the letters often took weeks or months to get to the reader and therefore, the responses are sometimes disjointed and non-linear.  Reading this made me think about how much we rely on modern communication methods and how instantaneous replies can be.

Prompt:

Write a poem or story using text messages where one person is in an area with limited coverage and keeps losing signal. 

Happy writing!

Monday, April 29, 2024

Week 18 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention. Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel 

Week 18 – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tale_of_Two_Cities 

First published: November 26, 1859 

Here's what the story is about: A Tale of Two Cities is a historical novel published in 1859 by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris, and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. 

First line/paragraph:  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

This story looks like it starts in omniscient POV but then we come to the word “we” and it looks like first person. Everything is contrasted but then the main character says it was “so far like the present period” so instead of contrast, there is similarity. Further in the chapter we learn it's 1775 and we read comparisons between England and France so the story is probably set in one of those countries, maybe both. Nothing about a plot yet, or even much about the main character. The opening contrasts make me curious but something has to happen in the next page or two to bring me into the story, otherwise I'm putting the book down. 

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments! 

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Do I need to be an illustrator to get a picture book published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I've written the text for a couple of children's books and after having tested them with my classes at school - I'm an early childhood teacher - I feel confident that they are hitting the mark with my target audience.  So I'm looking at trying to get them published.  I just have one question.  Do I also need to be an illustrator?  I'm not great at drawing, but I can give it a whirl if that's something that's required.  Or can I find someone else who is a better artist than me to illustrate my books?

Any advice would be gratefully accepted.  I don't want to do something dumb along the way and jeopardize my chances of seeing my books in print.

Much respect,

Unillustrated

Dear Unillustrated,

No, you do not need to be an illustrator to get your picture books published.  In fact, many publishers actually prefer that you don't.  They have illustrators they like to work with and if they like a picture book text, will get an illustrator to come on board once they've decided how the book is going to be laid out and how many illustrations it will need.  If you're not a great artist, sending badly drawn illustrations or sketches to illustrate what you think might go on each page might negatively influence the agent or publisher you're trying to impress.  

Obviously, if you are planning to self publish your book, that's a different story.  You will need to illustrate or find someone to work with to do that.  You can ask an artist you know or do some research in your local area. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and ChildrensIllustrators.com also have illustrators listed with examples from their portfolios.  Just remember, if you work with an illustrator, you will have to share any advance payment and  royalties with them.

Hopefully that helps!

Best of luck with the book.


X O'Abby



Monday, April 22, 2024

Week 17 – The Shining by Stephen King

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 17 –  The Shining by Stephen King

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shining_(novel)

https://stephenking.com/works/novel/shining.html

First published: January 28, 1977

Here's what the story is about: Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, accepts a position as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His wife and 5yo son accompany him. Danny possesses "the shining", psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel's horrific true nature. A winter storm leaves the family snowbound, and the supernatural forces affect Jack's sanity.

First line/paragraph:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.
Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

This story starts in third person POV and gives us the name of the main character, along with what he's thinking which tells us quite a bit about the type of person he is. Negative, judgmental, definitely not a friendly sort of person. The next paragraph describes the “officious little prick” in a way that not only describes that person, but tells us more about Jack Torrance. Nothing about the plot though, altho because we know it's a Stephen King novel, we're pretty sure the plot will be excellent and terrifying at the same time.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dear O'Abby: How do authors get paid?

 Dear O'Abby,

This will probably sound like a really dumb question, but how do authors get paid?  And is it different for authors who have published a bunch of books with a single publisher?

It just occurred to me that I have no idea...

Kind regards,

Curious

Dear Curious,

I don't believe any questions are dumb.  If you don't know something, ask.  I learned the hard way that you make really dumb mistakes if you don't!

The way authors get paid varies depending on who is paying them.

An author who sells a book to big publisher will usually receive an advance.  This can be a big amount of money if the publisher believes the book has the potential to sell a lot of copies, but is usually a more modest amount.  Advances tend to be paid in three tranches, the first on signing the contract, the second on delivering the final manuscript and the third on publication.

The thing with advances, is that they are payment in advance for sales that haven't happened yet.  So once the book is published, you don't see any more money for that book until it has earned out - repaid the advance.  And a lot of books don't end up earning out.  Once the advance has been paid off, then an author will start receiving royalties. These are usually paid out every three to six months, depending on the contract.

It is important that when signing a publishing contract you understand how the royalties are paid.  Some contracts specify royalties as a percentage of the gross, while others specify a percentage of the net.  The net price of a book is the cover price less any costs to the publisher, so can end up being a very small amount at the end of the day.  Especially if your royalty is only 5% of that.

Small presses tend not to offer advances, and therefore offer more attractive royalty rates.  Most small presses I've dealt with pay around 40%-55% royalties to their authors.  But once again, it's important to understand if that is gross or net. It's also important to know how often royalties get paid out.  My current publisher pays quarterly, but I have worked with small presses who only pay royalties once a year.

Authors whose work is published in literary journals or anthologies are likely to receive a one-off payment for their work which will either be a set dollar amount or a per-word fee - usually around 2-5 cents per word.  Which is not an excuse to get flowery with the language; an editor will likely cut any excess words pre-publication.

As far as I know, there is no difference for authors who have already published with a company.  They have the advantage (or disadvantage if their book sold badly) of having an relationship with an editor and a team at that publisher, but they will still get paid based on what they sell.

Self-publishing allows authors to take a much larger share of the money from every book sale, but also puts the costs of publishing the book (editing, formatting, cover design, marketing etc) into the atuthor's hands.

I hope that helps to sate your curiousity!


X O'Abby


Monday, April 15, 2024

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 16 – A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

https://www.suegrafton.com/kinsey-millhone.php

https://www.suegrafton.com/book-display.php?ISBN13=9780312938994&title_key=a

First published: April 15, 1982

Here's what the story is about: Kinsey Millhone, 32, former cop turned private detective in Santa Teresa California [fictional Santa Barbara], investigates the death of prominent divorce lawyer Laurence Fife. His murder eight years earlier was blamed on his wife, Nikki. Upon her release from prison, Nikki hires Kinsey to find the real murderer.

First line/paragraph:
My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I'm a nice person and I have a lot of friends. My apartment is small but I like living in a cramped space. I've lived in trailers most of my life, but lately they've been getting too elaborate for my taste, so now I live in one room, a “bachelorette.” I don't have pets. I don't have houseplants. I spend a lot of time on the road and I don't like leaving things behind. Aside from the hazards of my profession, my life has always been ordinary, uneventful and good. Killing someone feels odd to me and I haven't quite sorted it through. I've already given a statement to the police, which I initialed page by page and then signed. I filled out a similar report for the office files. The language in both documents is neutral, the terminology oblique, and neither says quite enough.

This story starts in first person POV with “my name is” and a list of characteristics, not something generally advised but Janet Evanovich also does it with her Stephanie Plum series. The plot is introduced by the fact she's a private investigator and she killed someone, but that's all we know. We do learn a lot about the setting and the main character in her own words and in her own  voice, which gives the reader more information than just the words describe. It also mentions a killing in the fourth sentence although we assume that's not the killing that she was hired to investigate. As a reader, I'm left with a favorable impression of this investigator as no-nonsense, gritty, determined, and interesting to read about for 8 hours.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 11, 2024

Dear O'Abby: Does the order of words really matter?

 Dear O'Abby,

I just got some feedback from my critique partner that some of my sentences don't read right in terms of the word order.  Is this really a thing?  Is it really wrong to say someone is "blonde, lithe and tall" instead of "tall, lithe and blonde"?  I've never come across that rule before and I can't see how it makes a difference.

Is this really a thing?

Best,

Disorderly

Dear Disorderly,

It does matter.  English is weird and has very specific rules, but in most languages you'll find the order words come in does matter.  Where it is more flexible is in languages like Latin where the meaning is indicated by the case or declension, not by the order of words in the sentence.

Most languages, English included, follow the Subject-Verb-Object pattern eg. John ate the cake.  But of course sometimes you need to express things more complex than that.

Given the example you gave, I suspect you're talking mainly about adjectives and the order in which they are used.  And yes, there is a hierarchy, which is probably what your critique partner was referencing when they mentioned your sentences feeling off.  People who speak English natively absorb these rules as they are learning to speak - they probably don't even know they are rules; just that it sounds wrong to have "green, jolly giant" as opposed to a "jolly, green giant".

The hierarchy is as follows:

1. Determiner (words like an, my, your, the)
2. Observations (words that describe a feeling about something - lovely, boring, stupid)
3. Size (self explanatory, I hope! Small, large, tiny)
4. Shape (again, speaks for itself, I think - triangular, heart-shaped, square)
5. Age (any word applying to this, not just the actual age of something - old, new, twelve-year-old)
6. Colour (obvious, I hope - pink, green, blonde)
7. Origin ( where something comes from - Mexican, Chinese, British)
8. Material (what the thing is made of - wood, copper, tweed)
9. Qualifier/modifier (a word that gives context to a noun)

So, to use all of these in a grammatically correct sentence try:

"My gorgeous, long, tapered, ten-year-old, ivory, Chinese, silk, wedding dress tore on my way up the aisle

If your character is not a native English speaker, then having them use words in the wrong order can show their lack of familiarity with the language, but it should be used sparingly.  And probably primarily in dialogue.

So I hope that helps.  The rules are somewhat arbitrary, I know, but if you read a sentence aloud and notice there is something slightly off about it, it may be because the order of adjectives in not correct.

Maybe next week I'll look at some other word placement issues I see sometimes.  Where you place words is important, the same way where you place punctuation is.

X O'Abby

Monday, April 8, 2024

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 15 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit

First published: September 21, 1937

Here's what the story is about: Bilbo Baggins, a homebody hobbit from Middle Earth, is “volunteered” by the wizard Gandalf to join thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim the dwarves' home and treasure from the dragon Smaug.

First line/paragraph:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. 

This story starts in what appears to be omniscient POV. The main character appears to be the referenced hobbit, who lives in a hole in the ground. And what a hole! We assume it includes at least one chair and food, and is a comfortable home.

The writing is somewhat lyrical. The only plot we know at this time is that this must be a fantasy story. But I'm intrigued enough to read at least the first few pages.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!




Thursday, April 4, 2024

Writing prompts with O'Abby

 There were no questions for O'Abby today, so I thought I'd try something new.  Please let me know in the comments if this is something you're interested in because I might make it a monthly feature if there is an appetite for it.

I know that when I'm stuck for ideas, using writing prompts is incredibly useful for me.  I even started writing a novel a few years back, using daily prompts to guide each chapter.  It was a really great way to challenge myself and pushed the story in directions I probably would not have taken on my own.  It also meant that each day I wrote around 1,000 words because the prompts I used were part of a daily contest to write flash fiction stories up to 1,000 words in length within 24 hours of the prompt being issued.

The prompts varied from giving five or six words that needed to be used in the chapter to offering specific topics to write about to suggesting genres.  Some days it was easy to fit the next chapter of my story to the prompt, while other days it was a lot more challenging. 

I'm not suggesting that you try to write a novel using prompts - it was simply a way to challenge myself and kickstart a story I was struggling to write - but when you need a starting point for anything, prompts can often be helpful.

So I'm going to offer you a prompt today.  I'd love to see what you do with it, so feel free to share what you write in the comments, or email your story or poem to O'Abby at operationawesome6@gmail.com.

Today's prompt draws inspiration from Dena's post earlier this week about Cormac McCarthy's The Road, one of my favourite books.

Prompt:

Write a story or poem about a time in the future using a common object from the present day to illustrate how the world has changed.

Happy writing!

O'Abby

Monday, April 1, 2024

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Last year on Mondays we had fun with books. This year, we'll look at most of the same books but also some new ones, and see if the first line [or first paragraph] met the goal of a first line which is ==> to hook the reader's attention.

Here are some tips on writing a first line

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/tips-for-writing-the-opening-line-of-your-novel

Week 14 – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

https://www.cormacmccarthy.com/works/the-road/

First published: September 26, 2006

Here's what the story is about: A father and his young son journey on foot across the ash-covered United States toward the sea, several years after a cataclysm destroys all life except for a few humans.

First line/paragraph:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

This story starts in third person POV with the main character waking up, which we are advised is generally not a good idea. However, the tone of the first line is the beginning of the theme and plot of the book, and I think it works here. He's waking up in the woods, it's still dark and cold, and a child is sleeping beside him. This begs the question of why is he in the woods with a child? The tone suggests they are not just camping. The sentences are sometimes run-on, other times fragments. A disjointed recounting of the story, which is vaguely unsettling and makes for a great introduction to the entire theme and plot of the book.

The next few sentences give more clues as to the setting: dark beyond darkness, days increasingly gray. Then kicker phrases that really set the background and plot - “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world” and “raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.” Then it moves to the recollection of a dream, which further sets the tone of the book.

Does this first line/paragraph hook your attention? If you had never heard of this story, would you buy this book in 2024? Knowing the story, would you change the first line? Tell us in the comments!






Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dear O'Abby: What are my odds for getting published?

 Dear O'Abby,

I'm a first-time author trying to get my novel published and it has been tough.  Lots of rejection from both agents and publishers which is disheartening.  So, I'm wondering, do you know what the stats are for first novels getting published?  And is there anything I can do to improve my chances?

Thanks so much,

Unpubbed

Dear Unpubbed,

Unfortunately, the news I have for you is not good.  Only about 2% of authors get commercial publishing contracts.  Stats say that about 95% of manuscripts are not up to the standard a commercial publisher would consider.  And even those that are up to the required standard might get passed on because the publisher already has something similar on their list, the subject matter doesn't align with their current priorities or they feel it may be too hard to sell.

It is a tough road...  In terms of upping your chances of being in that tiny percentage, the best thing you can do is to write an amazing book and make sure you've had several rounds of critique and editing before sending it out anywhere.  With so few books reaching a publishable standard, the best way to get a leg up to to ensure yours is among the 5% that are.

And of course, commercial publishing is not the only option for you.  Small presses often specialise in specific genres and styles that mainstream publishing companies may not be interested in, so if your book is in a more niche genre, you may be better off submitting to a small press. And of course, there is also the option of self-publishing which is a good option if you are someone who likes to be in control of things, or if you write quickly - commercial publishing generally works at glacial speed..

At the end of the day, while there are things you can control - like the quality of your book - a lot of it is luck.  If your book falls into the right hands at the right moment, it could be the thing that gets you published.  But for most of us, that doesn't happen and we need to look at other publishing options.  

I'm sure this isn't the news you were hoping for, but I always feel like it's better to be prepared and have all the facts before you go too far down any path.  

Best of luck with your publishing journey, whichever direction you choose to take.

X O'Abby